Delete Facebook! But also WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter…… while you’re at it, throw away the whole phone!
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many Facebook users have taken the plunge to delete their profiles on the platform. On Twitter, #DeleteFacebook was trending worldwide, as users proclaimed that this scandal had been the last straw. Facebook’s strategy for self-defence was a disaster, as Facebook’s vice-president Andrew Bosworth tweeted that “This was unequivocally not a data breach,”. Users were not reassured by this, and the defence had only fanned the flames of the scandal. After the dust and ash settled, Facebook’s shares had plunged from their February’s all time high of $193 USD to $160 USD.
This hugely publicised scandal has left many people feeling that time has come to delete their Facebook accounts, and that the level of protection of their data that Facebook offers is insufficient. But these frantic deactivations of Facebook accounts are not as impactful as individuals might suppose.
Firstly, deactivating a Facebook account does almost nothing to protect one’s privacy if they continue using Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp. These apps acquired by Facebook gather data in a similar way to their parent company and use this information to target advertising to users. And that is not a dishonest practice. When a user signs up for any one of those platforms, they voluntarily give the company access to their data which is then used to break down demographics and increase the effectiveness of advertising. This is no evil ploy, this is marketing.
Secondly, deleting individual accounts will not significantly impact the way data is gathered and sold in our society. Realistically, most people will continue using Facebook, as it may be their only point of contact and define their internet experience. Frankly, Facebook is too ingrained in our society, and is unable to be easily substituted. For an individual, deleting their account may make them feel good about ‘voting with their wallet’ or in this case ‘voting with their data’, but have almost no impact on Facebook’s operation. Group action is powerful, but on the scale of two billion users, organising in a large enough group is almost impossible.
Moves to delete Facebook have frequently been made following an array of past scandals. Paranoia about surveillance and loss of privacy is incredibly common in the modern world. Perhaps this is a response to the uncomfortable truth that in this decade more than any other, privacy has increasingly become elusive, and an illusion. But this may not be as terrible of a thing as some propose.
As #DeleteFacebook spread like wildfire through Twitter, many pointed out that we have taken as a given the positive aspects of social media. We do not consider that our data is the only payment required of us in order to enjoy a service which changes lives. What we have seen with Vero, an alternative ad-free platform with a subscription fee, is that while we are ready to complain eternally about Facebook gathering data, we are also not willing to put money where our mouth is and pay for a platform that doesn’t.
Regular users of any social media platform will attest to the endless complaining of users whenever a new update is released. From the chronological order of Instagram feeds, to Tumblr’s famously terrible video player, it seems that provoking outrage from the platform’s users is almost too easy.
In layman’s words, Cambridge Analytica asked for access to users’ Facebook data, and the users granted it, only to be outraged that their data was accessed. It seems that people heard the “Cambridge Analytica” name, thought that is sounded very serious, and decided that it was all Facebook’s fault. True, the way Facebook dealt with the situation was not ideal, but it was also not as criminal as some in the media would have it.
So, is it time to delete Facebook? Maybe. But not because of this scandal. There are infinitely better reasons to leave the platform behind. At the same time, all those reasons apply equally to Facebook and all other social media platforms. There is a multitude of ways in which social media is changing our society for the worst, so perhaps getting rid of the whole phone is not such a bad idea. And yet, we all hold on. Knowing all the downsides of social media, we continue scrolling. This shows that there must be something good there. Something valuable, and powerful, and worth preserving. One cannot make an educated decision if one is only considering the negatives of something. So, next month, when another outraged Twitter hashtag asks you to delete your account, weigh up what we give versus what we receive, and you may reconsider.